You realize about five seconds into Go Down In History that Four Year Strong, the Worcester, MA-based quartet that exemplified the best parts of pop-punk’s “easy-core” subset with its first two full-length releases, has completely and unabashedly returned to form. This is, by all means, a great thing.
I hate using a phrase like “return to form”–a cliché with the best of them–but after the band’s 2011 (probably near-career-ending) effort In Some Way, Shape Or Form, it seems wholly appropriate. That last record showed an unfortunate take on Four Year Strong’s typical sound, one that was seemingly executed through a lens of trying too hard to “mature.” That might have been due to pressures at a major label or simply the band’s own desire to show growth in their art. Either way, it didn’t work very well, and Four Year Strong was left with an album that both alienated fans and didn’t see commercial or radio success.
Now working with pop-punk indie powerhouse Pure Noise Records, it seems obvious that Four Year Strong–led by the dual vocal / guitar-wielding pair of Dan O’Connor and Alan Day–aren’t feeling any pressure at all. Go Down In History sounds like the most fun Four Year Strong has ever had recording music–an attitude that pays off in spades, because this EP is the band’s greatest release to date.
The EP is five songs of huge, intricate, explosive guitar work, thumping drums that refuse to take a rest, Day and O’Connor’s signature call-and-return vocals, the occasional necessary breakdown and gang vocal portion, and the catchiest choruses FYS has ever penned. This is Four Year Strong at their very best, as should have been evident to fans right when first single “Tread Lightly” was released. With its soaring chorus and bouncing melody, “Tread Lightly” offers an identity for Go Down In History as a entity; it’s the best-sounding Four Year Strong release, as Enemy Of The World producer Machine was re-enlisted behind the boards and offers his complete repertoire of flourishes and tricks.
Tracks like the opening “What’s In The Box?” and closing “So You’re Saying There’s A Chance…” are crisp, concise, solid numbers that require you to bellow them from the bottom of your stomach rather than sing along to them at any normal or appropriate volume. The latter, with its refrain of, “Standing on the edge of collapse, living life without a clue / It must be nice to be you,” is especially begging to be incorporated into live sets while the former sees Four Year Strong set an aggressive tone from Go Down In History’s very first moments.
But where Day and O’Connor have outdone themselves most is on the title track, the best song they’ve ever written together. It takes the relatively darker tones and epic gang vocals found on previous album closers “Maniac” (from Rise Or Die Trying) and “Enemy Of The World” and pairs that with one of the most memorable guitar riffs on the EP. The result is a no-holds-barred beast of a track, one that seems destined to become a set-closer for this band. With its chorus of “Move your hands back and forth in perfect symmetry / You can live like a time-bomb that doesn’t have long / Go down in history,” the song is also primed as the most likely to successfully get younger pop-punk fans hooked on FYS. This could be the song that proves most instrumental in Four Year Strong’s career resurfacing if it catches on properly.
”Easy-core” as it existed in the last few years of the 2000s is all but dead, and rightfully so. Most of the bands that surfaced from the sub-genre were, in a word, terrible. The only directly comparable act that ever challenged Four Year Strong in terms of popularity and relevance–Set Your Goals–has vanished into thin air, while the grandfathers of the genre, New Found Glory, haven’t released an exceptional album in half a decade. While A Day To Remember have managed to skip into a new level of popularity, they’ve done so while incorporating more metal influences and playing into the current popularity of heavy music. Four Year Strong may or may not decide to go all-in with reviving their career–you can’t blame them if they don’t want to be a fully active band again, seeing as how most of the members now have families and busy lives outside music–but either way, what Go Down In History reminds us is that “easy-core” was really only ever just Four Year Strong and everyone else.